Wonderland.

AMANDLA STENBERG

In conversation with King Princess.

(LEFT) Jumper BASHAQUES, trousers LIBERTINE, boots RINALDY A. YUNARDI and hat HURTENCE.
(RIGHT) Top SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO, skirt by VALERJ POBEGA, trousers RESURRECTION, and hat RINALDY A. YUNARDI.

We asked King Princess to interview Amandla Stenberg after catching her inescapable debut song “1950” in March. When we saw the two hanging out on Instagram, we decided we wanted to crash the party. Something of an overnight LGBTQ+ icon, KP – real name Mikaela Straus – made the first release on Mark Ronson’s Zelig Records with her track about unrequited queer love. It’s been streamed 70 million times on Spotify alone. Take that in: an army of accepting, adoring listeners have clocked up more plays on a song about same sex love than there are people living in the UK. The chance to pair Straus and Stenberg in conversation felt too perfect an opportunity to miss.

Stenberg first entered the wider public consciousness as Rue in The Hunger Games way back in 2012, but you know that. A captivating, tiny talent, she’d been working from the age of four and since, she’s just about taken over the world. TIME named her as one of the Most Influential Teens two years running. Beyoncé tapped her for a cameo in her genre-defying visual album, Lemonade. Stenberg’s even released her own music, most recently a Mac DeMarco cover for the film she starred in alongside Nick Robinson, Everything, Everything. She’s just 19 and already guiding a collective two million followers online.

The fact that so many people are trailing Stenberg’s narrative is a comfort in our current acidic social climate. Two million of us are seeking out Stenberg as a catalyst of change; absorbing her addresses on cultural appropriation, following her tributes to victims of gun crime and glowing in her pride about being a black, gay woman. After coming out as queer live on Teen Vogue’s Snapchat in 2016, Stenberg’s become a source of inspiration and comfort for kids living under the LGBTQ+ rainbow, watching her refusal to conform while she dominates and remoulds the mainstream.

This year, Stenberg’s working on new music and filming for her role in The Hate U Give, the vital George Tillman Jr. directed drama about police brutality in an impoverished black community. But of course, two major projects could never be enough for a star with such excellent time management: her sci-fi flick, The Darkest Minds and Amma Asante’s war drama, Where Hands Touch are also both imminently landing.

So, with King Princess on the astronomic come up, and Stenberg casting her own influence even further with every piece of art she creates, you can see why we wanted them in conversation, right? Two artists guarding virtual safe spaces for literally millions of other queer teenagers deserve one of their own when they’re baring all.

Part of the so-called “snowflake generation”? Nah. This pair are glaciers, slowly but surely shaping the world, just by existing.

(LEFT) Dress RAMI KADI
(RIGHT) Top and boots SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO, skirt VALERJ POBEGA, trousers RESURRECTION, bodysuit VICTORIA’S SECRET and hat RINALDY A. YUNARDI

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to interview Amandla. It’s not often that interviews are conducted by two people with a unified understanding of each other’s sexualities. I wanted Amandla to feel safe and respected in this interview; allowing her the space to ruminate on her experiences from the perspective of joy and acceptance of herself. The presence of straight, white heteronormativity surrounded both of our upbringings at the same time despite being on different coasts. The parallel of these experiences brought us together the first night we met. It was a classic Malibu function; a drunken crowd by a heated pool. We talked shit about the systems that made us feel small, and the effort we put in rejecting the institutions that reluctantly raised us.

What I didn’t tell her was that I distinctly remember walking out of my junior year English class reading: “Amandla Stenberg comes out as a queer”. She unknowingly set a precedent in my life, a gold standard of how to be proud and exist in the intersectionality of multiple identities that were once thought of as being conflicting. Now I know her. I know the nuances of her personality and the uncontrollable passion that she carries in her being.

I am a big fan and it was a pleasure to interview her. Please enjoy this hot steaming pot of tea.

– King Princess

Dress LOUIS VUITTON, dress worn underneath RESURRECTION, boots JEFFREY CAMPBELL, hat HURTENCE, tight’s stylist’s own and earring JENNIFER FISHER.

Hi bb! Let’s get real right out of the gate. I don’t know if the people in the back heard you, are you gay?
*Insert Ellen DeGeneres’ TIME Magazine cover squat and wide smile* Yep, I’m Gay.

What do you love about being gay?
Where do I start? I’m grateful for how being gay has afforded me this ability to experience and understand love and sex, and therefore life, in an expansive and infinite way. The continual process of unlearning heteronormativity and internalised homophobia can be difficult, but one of the biggest blessings lies in the magic that comes from having to understand love outside the confines of learned heterosexual roles. It is the power to reveal the ethereal love that exists within us underneath socialisation. Once I was able to rid myself of those parameters, I found myself in a deep well of unbounded and untouchable love free from the dominion of patriarchy. My sexuality is not a byproduct of my past experiences with men, who I have loved, but rather a part of myself I was born with and love deeply.

Alright, so you know when you’re gay and everything becomes clear and you start crying naked in bed, can you tell me a bit about the Gay Sob?
I had a few big Gay Sob moments when I realised I was gay. One might assume that they were mournful sobs, but actually quite the opposite in my lived experience. They were joyful and overwhelmed sobs – socialisation is a bitch and a half and kept me from understanding and living my truth for a while. I was so overcome with this profound sense of relief when I realised that I’m gay – not bi, not pan, but gay – with a romantic love for women. All of the things that felt so internally contrary to my truest self were rectified as I unravelled a long web of denial and self deprivation. Like oh, maybe there’s a reason why I kissed my best friends and felt ashamed growing up. Or watched lesbian porn and masturbated (and more) with my friends at sleepovers. Or stifled a scream of horror the first time I saw a penis and had to convince myself with much internal strife that I was enjoying what was going down. Or could only find attraction towards gay men and femme boys who damn near had the sensibility of a woman. Or developed earth shattering, all consuming crushes on… GIRLS! I was flooded with a sense of calm and peace because everything that I struggled with or felt discomfort around finally made sense to me, and once those floodgates opened and years of pent up pain and shame were released, I found the freedom to live my best life waiting for me just underneath.

Well that’s fucking lit. So with your more recent insight, how do you feel that women are bonded on multiple levels when they are romantic with each other?
There’s such a divine mutual respect and understanding that gives us the safety to be honest and authentic, and a friendship and appreciation injected into the dynamic because of the degree of empathy we have for each other and others as we walk in the world.

Who were your queer icons growing up?
As an early high schooler I connected profoundly to the poems of Audre Lorde, even if I couldn’t quite fully conceive of why yet. I felt empowered by the nature of Frida Kahlo’s fluidity and just the idea that I could love women the way she did. Even if he didn’t claim being a leader in the gay community, Prince taught me how to feel comfortable with the ephemeral and mystical nature of my gender and the power and fun of presentation. She’s my friend now and probably doesn’t realise this, but I thought Syd (The Internet) was so damn cool as a wee tween. I still think she’s cool now but I also know she’s a clown. Her pride in being gay was something that was so alluring and elusive to me simultaneously. I would get choked up around her, and sometimes I still do – she was and is one of the only very visible and proud, black, gay women in media.

(LEFT) Jacket QUEENIE and corset MISTRESS ROCKS.
(RIGHT) Jumper ZEYNEP TOSUN, top by QUEENIE, dress RESURRECTION, jeans DEATH BY DOLLS, dress work on side DAVID FERREIRA and shoes JEFFREY CAMPBELL.

I myself, and I’m sure most of the queer community, feel deeply connected to the (unfortunately few) gay narratives told through film and television. Did that lack of black queer women on screen make it difficult to determine your own sexuality at a young age?
Definitely. Had I had more representations of black gay women growing up I probably would’ve come to conclusions around my sexuality much earlier because I would’ve had more of a conception of what was possible and okay. Having more representations of black gay women now and seeing myself reflected in them has been a huge aid in seeing myself as whole, complete, and normal.

Who was the first woman to turn you on when you were a kiddo?
Check this scintillating memory: I’m maybe nine or 10 years-old, channel surfing secretly in the TV room while my parents are asleep. Something catches my eye on the TV Guide – it says After Sex is playing on HBO. I click on it (how could I not, sex was the most fascinating, mysterious phenomenon to me?!) Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis fill the screen. They’re sitting in a library, and Zoe puts her hand between Mila’s mini skirt and white cowboy boot clad legs. She watches Mila’s face with relish before LICKING HER FINGERS and TELLING HER SHE TASTES GOOD! It was simply too much for a gay tot to bear. I ran to the bathroom confused and disoriented, thinking I had peed my pants. After that I would religiously watch that clip on YouTube underneath the covers of my bunk bed. And then all that gay shit went down between Mila and Natalie Portman in Black Swan, to further the ardour. So Mila Kunis was probably my first lesbian crush, besides that silver haired hoe Mirage from The Incredibles or Kristina Vidal’s punk ass in Freaky Friday.

Mirage was fire. What kind of art are you making right now?
I like to keep every facet of my creativity open! I’ve been working on more music – that process has been so gratifying, rewarding and healing. I’m cultivating my musicianship especially when it comes to my voice and violin. I’m currently writing a script based on an experience I had abroad, and contributing to a show called BLKNWS (Black News) directed by my dear friend and mentor, Kahlil Joseph. The rest of the year most of my energy will go towards promoting the films I have coming out that I act in. One is a young adult dystopian film called The Darkest Minds, and the other, called The Hate U Give, is inspired by the events that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

How is The Darkest Minds relevant to today’s society?
It’s about a society not far distant from ours where children have been imprisoned for developing supernatural psychic abilities, and the protagonists have to accept and utilise their powers to escape from those confines and survive in a world where adults fear them. I think it feels akin to the landscape we’re living in. Never before has the youth been so empowered and had such effective tools at their disposal, and never before have conservative adults been so afraid of a progression they can’t fully understand.

You signed onto The Hate U Give so early, what does it feel like to watch a film grow from the beginning?
It has been a privilege and an honour. I was able to get my hands on an early manuscript of the book before it was published, and was astonished by the black girl realness and representation Angie Thomas gives us. Here’s this girl navigating code switching between black and white environments, the blessings and pitfalls of family, friendship, relationship and community, all while coping with the wildly tragic reality of seeing her childhood friend shot and killed by a white police officer. She sees the way these events are internalised by the different racial communities she inhabits and how the media skews information in order to perpetuate the age-old tropes of blameless white good Samaritan and criminal black child. In a world in which black children are disenfranchised and criminalised from the moment they exit the womb, I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on any of us. I chased the book the same time as George Tillman, the director, just as Fox 2000 optioned the book and began the screenwriting process. They were interested in me as I had just come to light for some of my activist work and the producers felt that I embodied Starr’s qualities as she becomes a vocal advocate for black children killed by police, so it all fell together in a fortuitous and synchronistic manner that led to me attaching early on to aid the process of development. About a year after being attached to the project, I was asked to come in and audition for the role to prove that I had Starr within me. Portraying her even just in the audition was such a poignant and deep-rooted experience because I carry her in my heart and see myself reflected in her.

Dress and shoes ANDREAS KRONTHALER for VIVIENNE WESTWOOD and tights LIBERTINE.

What does it feel like to play a role that you truly and deeply relate to?
A fulfilling, powerful privilege with a tinge of danger. Starr’s voice is so relatable and these heinous acts are real. Throughout the duration of filming I realised I needed to put parameters in place to protect my emotional core because not only do I feel intertwined with Starr, but these are real events happening to real people. There were moments where I could not separate myself from her or the transgressions of a consistently discriminatory and brutal system. It was critical to dive in as deep as possible in order to honour the experiences of those who have had their loved ones fall victim to a racist and violent regime.

What makes your character, Starr, a necessary character in our world?
She’s fresh as hell, she’s nuanced, she’s adept and she’s brave. I don’t think it’s very often we get a black girl character who has mastered the ability of the code switch. She proficiently moves between the comfort of her lower income black neighbourhood and the world of the white private school she attends where she doesn’t fit in. This was my experience in life too, and to see a character who lives within this dichotomy find her voice and grow into the realisation of her truth in the face of such adversity feels really special and necessary.

How did you navigate accurately representing the Black Lives Matter movement on screen?
We consistently referenced real events, whether that be images or accounts from protesters and those affected. The production team worked closely with activists to construct an authentic narrative, and we had students and protesters who have been engaged in the resistance come be a part of the film.

In an ideal world, what would you like the message of the film to be?
Black Lives Matter. Black children are not criminals. Black girls are magic. Black community is everything. I hope the film is able to reach those to whom these events seem trivial and ground it in reality for them. I love the power film has to create empathy through personal narratives, and I hope this shit gets real to those unaffected real damn quick.

I think without a doubt this film demands the viewer to give up their complacency. I want to take it back a few steps to a darker time…What books did you love in high school?
My favourite book in high school and to this day is Beloved by Toni Morrison. This story of generational trauma, of ancestral ghosts and magic, of the legacy of black womanhood, is something I hold very dear to my heart. The tapestry woven by our mothers and our mother’s mothers is a vivid documentation of our historical trauma and collective joy that we inherit in our very bloodstreams themselves. We are passed wisdom and teachings through our bloodlines, and destined to consecrate the history of our ancestors through repeating it within our own lifetimes, whether that be literally, or figuratively, by the way we house the energy of the past within us in concentric circles. Though we are destined to carry the trauma, we gain the piercing love and protection that comes with it as well. As black women, no matter what we face, we fall under the protection of our black womanhood, whether we find that literally in our peers, sisters and collective experiences, or through the circle of mother ancestors who hover in the heavens with their hands linked and hearts in prayer.

Do you feel that your identities intersect in life/love/work?
Most def. Identity is transient and ever- shifting, shaped by our realities and relative to our environments. I think it’s a lens through which we navigate the world, and so it is inevitable that as I grow and change my experiences of life and love permeate the art that I make

We must be grateful for these lenses. Without them everything would be boring. What’s the tea on 2018? Is disillusionment just part of the gig?
I think it has to be. How do we avoid disillusionment in today’s day and age? A lesson I’ve been learning is to stop running from it. It is an inevitable and critical step in change and understanding, and we are experiencing one large pubescent upheaval right now. As my mother has spoken softly to me time and time again, this too shall pass. So we breathe and let it pass with the cognisance that our growth is on the way.

Photography
Charlotte Rutherford
Fashion
Toni-Blaze
Words
Lily Walker
Hair
Vernon Francois at the Visionaries Agency using Vernon Francois
Makeup
Carola Gonzalez at Forward Artists using Lemonhead
Nails
Stephanie Stone at Forward Artists using Essie
Prop Stylist
Morgan Kranston
Photography assistant
Frances Shamrock
Fashion assistants
Rosie Sykes, Simona William and Eve Conrad
Entertainment Director
Erica Cornwall
With thanks to
Dream Factory LA Studio
AMANDLA STENBERG